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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

JHABVALA, RUTH PRAWER (1927– ), novelist and screenwriter. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was born in Cologne and emigrated with her family to England in 1939. There she married an Indian architect, C.S.H. Jhabvala, and moved to Delhi, where she made her home.

Her experience as a refugee is a dark, albeit not a dominant, theme in her work. In the best of her stories of India there appears, invariably, the misplaced European, a tragic wanderer of middle age and older, a person of no means and no occupation, without a place in his adopted society, living on sufferance. The story, "A Birthday in London," depicts a gathering of German-Jewish refugees in London, long after the war, where they recall the first bitterness of their exile.

The dominant theme of Mrs. Jhabvala's work, however, is that of caste and class in India. She is a satirist, and the object of her satire is the particular element in Indian society which she knows well, that of the progressive-minded, the upper-mobile, and the culture-hungry. The world of her novels and short stories is peopled with prim Indian civil servants and their faintly dissatisfied young wives, with dreamers and faded beauties of waspish temper. To these are added the forlorn Europeans, who yearn to discover the true India, to merge with it, but who forever remain inveterately European.

Her first novel To Whom She Will (1955) was followed by The Nature of Passion (1956), Esmond In India (1958), The Householder (1960), Get Ready For Battle (1962), and A Backward Place (1965). Travelers (1973; published in England under the title A New Dominion, 1972) was acclaimed for its wit, its deft parody, and its assault on the spiritual humbug of the gurus and their devotees, both Indian and European. Her novel Heat and Dust (1975) won the 1975 Booker Prize for fiction.

Jhabvala has also published three collections of short stories, Like Birds, Like Fishes (1964), A Stronger Climate (1968), and An Experience of India (1971), and wrote the script of three films, Shakespeare-Wallah (1965), The Guru (1959), and Bombay Talkie (1971).

Jhabvala achieved worldwide fame in the 1980s through her collaboration with the film production-direction team of Ishmael Merchant and James Ivory, for whom she scripted several highly successful films, including adaptations of E.M. Forster's novels A Room with a View (1986) and Howards End (1992). Both earned Jhabvala Academy Awards for best screenplay, while the 1993 Merchant-Ivory Production The Remains of the Day was nominated for the same honor. More recent screenplays include Surviving Picasso (1996), The Golden Bowl (2000), and Le Divorce (2003).


V.A. Shahane, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1976).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.